Formative is a teaching style, not just a type of assessment

By Craig Jones

The word formative is popular in the education space.  We picked this word for our company’s name, Formative (, because we wanted to help make sure it is used correctly.

Having shared this in many presentations with other educators, I’ve begun to find a simple definition that helps break down the key difference between formative assessment and summative assessment.  Even more, I’ve also noticed one key finding:

Formative is not merely a type of assessment.  Instead, being formative is a teaching style.

The Logic

A summative assessment is a formal opportunity to:

  • Identify which students are struggling with or mastering a concept.

A formative assessment is a formal or informal opportunity to do two things:

  • Identify which students are struggling with or mastering a concept AND intervene.

Note: You must intervene.  Measuring student performance or collecting data is not formative unless you use the information to help your students.

If an educator does not make an intervention, then they have not done anything formative.  However, if a teacher is looking at every moment of the day as an opportunity to make an intervention, then they are in fact always formative.

With this, we hope that every teacher will not just give formative assessments but instead practice a formative teaching style.  Using this mentality, every piece of classwork/homework and every interaction with a student may be used as a formative moment – a moment to intervene and help each student grow.